For many of us, nine months spent quarantining at home has completely erased the elaborate routines and habits we had carefully constructed in the Before Times. Commuting? Wearing makeup? Going to spin class? School drop-offs? Social distancing requirements and the closing of schools, workplaces, and businesses have upended many of those pre-pandemic habits.
So it’s unsurprising that as we turn to 2021, many Americans are seeking ways to develop new habits and bring some structure and routine back into their largely housebound lives. A new survey from CIT Bank (conducted by the Harris Poll) found that 43 percent of Americans are setting New Year’s resolutions for 2021, compared with 35 percent who did the same for 2020. Resolutions focused on habits such as exercise and self-care are especially popular.
When a new year starts, we’re filled with optimism and set ambitious goals, believing that all we need is a fresh start and soon we’ll get fit, learn Spanish, eat healthier, and save more money. But few stick to those resolutions past January: A study by the University of Scranton found that just 40 percent of resolution-makers are still keeping their resolutions six months in.
That’s where habit-tracking apps want to help you. A growing market of companies has emerged that claim to help you develop — and stick to — good habits. In the last few years, dozens of habit-formation apps have cropped up: Momentum. Habitica. Done. Coach.me. Habitshare. Habitbull. Today. Streaks. There are so many that the website Lifehack ranked 22 of the “best” options. Most of the apps are ad-free, but charge their users for the ability to create more habits, for more premium features, or for access to personal habit coaches.
Much has been written about the very modern obsession with the quantified self: logging data about every part of our lives, such as our water intake, our daily steps, our menstrual cycles, our caloric consumption. But habit-formation apps are a slightly different breed: They’re aspirational. Habit-formation apps are less about distilling your life into a series of data points and more about becoming your ideal self: If you use their app, you too can become a person who practices good habits. You can become someone who exercises and meditates every day and always drinks eight glasses of water.
But do these apps really work? Can they deliver on their promise to help you build better habits? Will an app really turn you into a person who gets up at 6 am every day to go for a run and make a smoothie? I asked some habit experts about whether these apps can really live up to their promises.
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